Kate Gordon, co-founder of the , Sarah McCrory, director of and , academic and patron, thrash out what it means to be a woman working in the art world in 2017. If you too have ever wondered what it would be like to share a steak with Peggy Guggenheim, then this is the video for you
Working in magazines means working with women. The two go hand in hand. In my experience, the same is true of the art world and over the years, in my role as arts editor at House & Garden, I've met legions of brilliant, bright women. But (sadly there's always a but) this just isn't being reflected in gallery and museum shows. Female artists account for a pitiful percentage of many institutions' permanent collections and a large number of commercial galleries aren't much better when it comes to showing women.
Trawling through figures on gender imbalance can be a dispiriting thing and it does very little to address the issue head on. So, this summer I leafed through my address book and ed some of the women in the art world who are paving the way for change. We photographed eleven trailblazers at Tate Modern and published a fantastic article by Hettie Judah in the November issue of House & Garden (on sale now).
Not content with stopping there, I roped in Kate Gordon, co-founder of the , Sarah McCrory, director of and , academic and patron, to thrash out their thoughts on the matter.
Hettie Judah considers the women who are paving the way for change.
The recent appointments of women in senior positions at arts organisations in the UK mark a golden moment for gender equality, but there is still a long way to go in the representation of women artists at galleries, museums and auctions. From the November 2017 issue of House & Garden.
It was a balmy July evening in Regent's Park. The director of Tate, director of Frieze Art Fairs and Yorkshire Sculpture Park's director of programme spoke eloquently about the importance of nurturing new audiences for art before a thronging crowd, fizzing with Champagne. It was the launch of the first summer-long, free and accessible edition of Frieze Sculpture, a new public-private initiative that had brought together these three powerful figures in British art: Maria Balshaw, Victoria Siddall and Clare Lilley. No mention was made of this coincidence of gender, yet for many it felt triumphant seeing these three brilliant women share a platform.
Maria's appointment at the head of the Tate organisation - where she leads a team that includes Frances Morris as director of Tate Modern - marks something of a golden moment for gender equality at the head of arts organisations in the UK. London's Whitechapel Gallery has been under the direction of Iwona Blazwick since 2001; Emma Dexter has been director of visual arts at the British Council since 2014; and earlier this year Cheyenne Westphal was appointed global chairman of Phillips auction house. Women have likewise flourished in the commercial sector, their names now associated with some of London's leading galleries, among them Sadie Coles, Maureen Paley, Kate MacGarry and Victoria Miro.
With figureheads such as these, do we still need to talk about 'women in the arts', as though they occupied as special position? 'In the contemporary art world there are so many women in senior positions that you can be lulled into thinking that there's no imbalance, and that it's not an issue anymore,' says Victoria, who has been director of the Frieze fairs in London and New York since 2014. 'You could think job done, but the reality is that there's some way to go, parti-cularly with the market and with museum collections.'
The market does indeed present a rather less warm and fuzzy picture of the perceived value of women's work. Of the 23 works on display at Frieze Sculpture in Regent's Park, only four are by female artists. Indeed, more of the galleries that participated in the project have women's names attached to them than the artworks. Proportionally fewer female artists are represented by top dealers: a recent study of New York's leading commercial galleries revealed that only 32 per cent of the artists on their rosters were female (and over 80 per cent of artists represented were white). Initiatives such as the Gallery Tally project highlight the discrepancies between male and female representation in commercial galleries.
While the work of influential figures such as Yayoi Kusama and Cindy Sherman can net significant figures at auction, the sums achieved are still well below those of male artists of equal status. 'In the past, women did not have the same opportunities as men, and there has been an over-dominance of male work as a result. There were female artists throughout the art historical canon, but history hasn't focused on them,' says Cheyenne, who has worked in the auction world for over 20 years. 'In recent decades, female artists have begun to see an overdue acknowledgment of their importance in the field, including Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo, Agnes Martin and Joan Mitchell, among others. Georgia O'Keeffe currently holds the top auction price for a female artist at almost £35 million. This is less than half that of a male artist, so we still have progress to make but we're definitely heading in the right direction.'
A similar gender imbalance has historically been reflected in both the temporary exhibitions and permanent displays of major museums. A tally in April 2015 showed only seven per cent of the works on display in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York were by women. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has equally attracted criticism for its overabundance of 'dude art'.
By contrast, a number of British museums (notably those with strongly female-led teams) have pushed to redress the gender balance in their displays. 'Last year, 77 per cent of Baltic's solo exhibitions were by female artists and 94 per cent of all visitors responded positively,' says Sarah Munro, director of the Newcastle art gallery. Between 2010 and 2015, headed up by Iwona (who started her career at Tate) some 40 per cent of Whitechapel Gallery's solo exhibitions were of female artists. Under the direction of Frances, Tate Modern rehung its displays in 2016 when the new Blavatnik Building opened, with half the solo displays dedicated to works by women.
Frances recalls that she and Iwona 'became sharply aware' of Tate's historical gender bias as they reviewed the collection ahead of the opening of Tate Modern in the late Nineties. 'Since 2000, and with increasing momentum over time, we have done a lot to re-connect our audiences with significant - but overlooked or forgotten - work by women and by artists whose race, ethnicity or geographical location meant they had been denied national and international recognition,' she explains.
Kate Gordon, the founder and CEO of London Art Studies and co-founder of the Association of Women in the Arts, sees trailblazing figures such as these as having had a very direct impact on the number of women going into major arts organisations, and the career expectations they bring with them. 'Frances and Iwona are bringing qualified women up through the ranks to follow in their footsteps,' says Kate. 'Optimistically, I get the feeling that society forced gender imbalances are changing for the positive.'
Curator Hannah Barry founded her eponymous gallery in Peckham in 2007, where she also directs the not-for-profit, multi-storey carpark-based cultural enterprise Bold Tendencies. While citing an extensive list of women that inspire her work, from Sappho to Frances, Hannah is under no illusions that the current visibility of women in the arts has been the result of a concerted push behind the scenes. 'So many different people are working very hard on these agendas: writers and publishers, individuals in the world of galleries and museums, and organisations such as the Association of Women in the Arts and Joanna Payne's Marguerite, a members' club which organises events catered to women,' she says. 'It is an exciting and progressive moment.'
Emma Dexter, Director of visual arts at the British Council
'Thankfully there are more and more visionary and passionate collectors that specifically support women artists, or focus particularly on ethnicity, identity and genre, who are doing really important work.'
Kate Gordon, Founder of London Art Studies, and co-founder of the Association of Women in the Arts
'There are more men than women in the digital and tech sector, but the media and arts education sectors are, curiously, a balanced mix between the two. I feel strongly that it's just a case of who can do the best job at that point in time.'
Cheyenne Westphal, Chairman of Phillips
'Female artists are increasingly stealing the spotlight, through exhibitions at major institutions to the internationally attended biennials.'
Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern
'My female colleagues at Tate and beyond have been my greatest supporters and mentors.'
Victoria Siddall, Director of Frieze Art Fairs
'It is important for me to talk openly about having a child. I can do my job and have a family and not have to hide that. I feel there is a responsibility to set an example.'
Sarah Munro, Director of Baltic
'Almost fifty years on from the Equal Pay Act and we still see significant disparity in women's earnings and this is something we continually need to be both vigilant and questioning of. Increasingly, it is women who are thriving in the arts. The greatest challenge is the balancing of raising a family in a world that isn't nine-to-five. The arts operate through social structures, with night events and travelling being constants. It is up to us as leaders to create the right environment for all to thrive.'